Elaine Wynn departing from State Board of Education at year's end

The back end of a Clark County School bus

Elaine Wynn, a longtime force in Nevada’s K-12 education world, is leaving the State Board of Education at the end of this year.

Wynn, the board’s current president, was appointed to the governing body in 2012 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. Her appointment coincided with a major composition shift to the State Board of Education, which now includes both appointed and elected members.

Gov. Steve Sisolak also announced Friday that he has appointed former state board member Mark Newburn, who this year lost a re-election bid to Rene Cantu, to succeed Wynn. Newburn previously represented District 4 as an elected member.

“President Wynn’s legacy of service to the children of our great State is indelible,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Generations of children will be the beneficiaries of her life-long passion to improve education and support healthy communities throughout Nevada. I cannot thank President Wynn enough for her dedication to the Board and I know she will continue to contribute to the betterment of the Silver State.”

During her eight-year tenure on the board, Wynn — a businesswoman and philanthropist — emphasized better serving students of color as well as students living in poverty. That passion can be traced to her efforts since the pandemic disrupted learning in the spring. Wynn played a key role in establishing a public-private partnership known as Connecting Kids that has drastically reduced the number of children statewide without access to a device or internet for distance learning.

Three state superintendents — Jhone Ebert, Steve Canavero and Dale Erquiaga — were hired during her tenure. She also has a namesake building, the Elaine Wynn Elementary School, in Las Vegas.

Per Nevada law, appointed voting members of the State Board of Education serve two-year terms, with the caveat that they will continue serving until a successor has been appointed. When Newburn's term as an elected member expires in January, he will begin his appointed term.

Education Race Roundup: Brooks re-elected in Clark County trustee race; Church leading in Washoe County trustee race

The back end of a Clark County School bus

Three new members appear poised to join the Clark County School Board of Trustees, and an incumbent will be returning for a second term.

Incumbent Lola Brooks, who serves as board president, has defeated Alexis Salt, a Clark County School District teacher, to retain her District E seat. As of early Wednesday morning, Brooks has captured 57 percent of the votes, while Salt snagged 43 percent.

“Although I am leading in my race, final election results won’t be available until all the votes are counted,” Brooks tweeted Wednesday morning. “Let’s wait until every vote is counted.”

Brooks was the only incumbent running for the four Clark County School Board seats up for grabs in this election. Existing trustees Deanna Wright (District A), Chris Garvey (District B) and Linda Young (District C) are term limited, leaving those seats wide open to board newcomers.

In District A, voters chose Lisa Guzman to represent them on the school board. Guzman, executive director of the Education Support Employees Association, had scooped up 53 percent of the votes by early Wednesday morning, compared with Liberty Leavitt’s 47 percent. Leavitt, wife of former state Sen. Michael Roberson, works at a nonprofit serving underprivileged children.

The race for the District B trustee seat is not nearly as close. Katie Williams — a veteran, former small business owner and outspoken conservative — has amassed 61 percent of the votes, defeating Jeffrey Proffitt, who has received 39 percent. Proffitt’s loss comes despite him out-fundraising Williams by a significant margin and racking up a lengthy list of endorsements.

On Wednesday morning, Williams took to Twitter, where she thanked voters and said she looked forward to serving them.

“People degraded me daily, but I didn't care because I knew I was right,” she wrote in a tweet. “The district needs help and I want to thank all the voters who believed in me and who cast their votes for me.”

In District C, meanwhile, Evelyn Garcia Morales holds the lead early Wednesday morning after stockpiling 53 percent of the votes. Her opponent, Tameka Henry, has earned 47 percent.

The revamped cast of the school board comes as trustees grapple with the aftermath of pandemic-disrupted learning. The new trustees will assume their roles in January.

Washoe County School Board of Trustees

Jeff Church has triumphed in the race for the Washoe County School Board seat in District A, denying Scott Kelley’s bid at a re-election comeback.

“I thank the voters and those that supported me for change at WCSD,” Church wrote in a statement shared with The Nevada Independent. “I hope to earn the trust that the voters placed in me and I will do whatever it takes to improve the quality of education and represent the needs of the taxpayer.”

That race took a weird twist in August when Kelley resigned from the school board after a This Is Reno story detailed information about his divorce, including placing a tracking device on his wife’s vehicle and operating fake social media accounts. But Kelley remained on the general election ballot, hoping to revive his school board career by letting voters decide his fate.

After Kelley resigned, the board appointed former Incline Village Middle School Principal Sharon Kennedy to serve the remainder of his term.

Results posted early Wednesday show that Church, a retired Reno police sergeant, has snagged 60 percent of the votes, while Kelley has only grabbed 40 percent.

But, in the District E trustee race, incumbent Angela Taylor handily sailed to re-election after scooping up 63 percent of the votes by early Wednesday. Her challenger, Matthew Montognese, has received 37 percent.

“It’s an honor that the people in District E would entrust me once again to represent them,” Taylor said during a phone call with The Nevada Independent. “It makes me feel good as an incumbent that the district likes what they see with my work and want to keep that going.”

The closest Washoe County School Board race is for the At-Large District G seat. As of early Wednesday, Diane Nicolet, a previous board appointee, maintained the lead with 54 percent of votes tallied. Her competitor, Craig Wesner, has captured 46 percent.

State Board of Education

Rene Cantu appears on track to defeat incumbent Mark Newburn to represent District 4 on the State Board of Education. 

It’s a tight race: Cantu, who is executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates, has earned 51 percent of the votes tallied so far, while Newburn has received 49 percent. The margin separating the two in that race is 4,001 votes.

Cantu’s victory comes amid very little campaign spending and fewer endorsements. Newburn, however, had voiced concern that parents’ disappointment with school reopening decisions could hurt his shot at re-election.

The District 1 race, meanwhile, isn’t quite as close. Tim Hughes has the edge with 52 percent of votes as of Wednesday morning, while his opponent, Angelo Casino, has 48 percent.

Hughes, vice president of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a teacher training program, mounted a significant fundraising advantage during the course of the campaign. Casino is a charter school teacher in Las Vegas. 

Board of Regents

The Board of Regents, which oversees Nevada’s higher-education system, had four positions on the ballot this year. 

In District 2, Lois Tarkanian, a longtime Las Vegas City Councilwoman who was termed out last year, has won with 60 percent of the votes tallied as of Wednesday morning. Her opponent, Brett Whipple — a former regent and attorney with the Justice Law Center — has 40 percent.

Tarkanian, the wife of the late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and mother of Douglas County Commissioner-elect Danny Tarkanian, lamented the untraditional election year that robbed candidates of connecting with voters personally, though it didn't affect her election. She said she looks forward to addressing higher education's issues from the pandemic and developing the UNLV Medical School, which broke ground in late October.

"There's lots of aspects to a medical program besides the building, so I've worked on some of them already," she said. "Secondly, [I want] to continue working very hard to become a world-class educational institution. And that means providing what we need and not wasting money."

Byron Brooks, a principal managing partner of a Henderson spa, has won the District 3 seat with 55 percent of the votes counted so far. His competitor, Swadeep Nigam, a financial analyst for a Las Vegas law firm, has 45 percent.

The race for District 5 remains contested. Patrick Boylan, a former adjunct professor at the College of Southern Nevada, narrowly leads with 51 percent of the votes tallied. His opponent, Nick Spirtos, medical director of the Women’s Cancer Center of Nevada, has 49 percent.

In District 10, Joseph Arrascada has won with 54 percent of votes, while Kevin Melcher, a former regent, has 46 percent. 

Arrascada, who works at the Reno Veterans Administration Hospital and is co-owner of a local community service agency, attributed his win to his platform, which focused on increasing communication between regents, students, faculty and university leadership, and keeping pandemic-driven budget cuts out of classrooms. 

"Even before the closing of the polls, I truly feel that I had won. I know it sounds strange but I'd won because the community that I've called home my entire life, they embraced my candidacy," he said. "It's those items that truly infused my tenacity to continue with throughout this process to bring success."

Election Preview: Two spots are still up for grabs on the state Board of Education

Two candidates won their seats on the state’s education board outright in June, but narrow primary battles mean four others are still fighting for two spots, including one incumbent who is concerned that parent frustrations about distance learning may hurt his chances of retaining a seat he has held since 2013.

The seats the candidates are seeking are on the Nevada State Board of Education, a body many of them have indicated has been historically “overlooked,” but that has gained a new level of importance this fall as it helped oversee the reopening of Nevada’s schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board works in conjunction with the Department of Education, helping to adopt administrative regulations and set statewide standards for study that school districts must adhere to. The board also helps to allocate funding based on legislative policies and operates a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workgroup.

The board has a total of 11 seats —  seven appointed and four elected, with the four elected seats representing each of Nevada’s congressional districts. All four nonpartisan elected seats are up for grabs every four years.

During June’s primary, two candidates won their districts outright by getting more than 50 percent of the vote. Katie Coombs ran unopposed for Northern Nevada’s District 2 seat earlier this year, and in Southern Nevada’s District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz received 63 percent of the vote, enough to secure the seat without competing in the general election.

Districts 1 and 4, however, are still undetermined. In District 1, five candidates competed in the primary with Tim Hughes, the vice president of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a teacher training program, and charter school teacher Angelo Casino coming out on top. District 4 will see incumbent Mark Newburn take on Rene Cantu, who narrowly won the primary by only 0.5 percentage points in June.

District 1

In Nevada’s geographically smallest district, encompassing the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, the battle is between a former teacher and administrator who’s now focused on training, and a current teacher who believes his in-the-classroom experience will give him the edge.

Incumbent Robert Blakely did not seek re-election this year, and Hughes and Casino are hoping to fill the open seat. With 38 percent of the vote, Hughes received the most support during the primary. Casino received 24 percent.

Hughes, who ran for the seat in 2016 as well, has focused his campaign on ensuring an “equitable outcome” for students, no matter their district or demographic background. The former teacher and principal works for a nonprofit focused on teacher training.

“I intend to utilize all that I have learned, along with my commitment to our community, to advocate for the policies and practices that will lead to greater student success,” he said.

Hughes says the pandemic has not changed his priorities when it comes to Nevada’s education and the welfare of students but, rather, problems he already intended to address have been “exacerbated” by it.

The candidate, who has been endorsed by the Culinary Union, AFL-CIO and the Clark County Education Association, reported more than $19,000 in contributions during the second quarter of 2020, with donations from the campaigns of multiple Nevada political figures including Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen and Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela. He also received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and $4,000 from Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonprofit organization that supports leaders seeking to end inequity in education.

Hughes reported spending $18,590 during the same period on advertising and consulting. The bulk went towards Facebook advertising and fees paid to two political consulting firms, Wildfire Contact and AMM Political Strategies. His campaign’s reported cash on hand balance was just over $3,000 at the end of June.

Casino, who teaches at Somerset Academy Lone Mountain in Las Vegas, has brought in fewer contributions and spent less than his opponent. Of the $1,535 in reported donations during the second quarter of the year, Casino himself contributed $1,260. His largely self-funded campaign has reported no cash on hand after the candidate spent all $1,535 on advertising through Amazon and Facebook.

Casino’s campaign has been largely based on his goal of bringing a current teacher’s perspective to the board.

“I see every day the impact [the board’s] decisions have in our classrooms,” Casino said in an email to The Nevada Independent. “I am a middle school history teacher and the time has come for our students and teachers to be represented on the board.”

According to Casino, the pandemic has shifted his priorities since filing to run for the seat, and the importance of short-term needs such as technology access and providing extra assistance to special education students have taken precedence over his long-term goals.

District 4

Challenger Rene Cantu pulled off a narrow primary victory over Mark Newburn, the board’s current vice president, in District 4, which encompasses Central Nevada, including the northern portion of Clark County. However, Cantu says he has had trouble gaining endorsements in the race as many organizations have put their support behind the incumbent.

Newburn has been endorsed by the Clark County Education Association, the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association. He reported $200 in donations to his campaign in the second quarter of the year but more than $4,000 in spending during the same span of time, with a focus on advertising. The candidate reported a cash on hand balance of $4,086 which includes what is left of a $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign during the first quarter of the year.

Cantu has entirely self-funded his efforts during the second quarter of the year, reporting a $2,724 donation he made to the campaign fund, all of which was spent on advertising, leaving the candidate with no cash on hand.

Cantu is the executive director for Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates, also known as JAG Nevada, and previously was a member of the Clark County School District Board of Trustees. The candidate said he believes that his career’s focus on helping students transition from K-12 schools into higher education and the workforce will bring a “unique viewpoint” to the board. He has also focused heavily on supporting educational equity in his campaign.

“I have a big commitment to equity and diversity,” he said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “For the whole state, but especially for region four, making sure that more rural students have access to [career and technical education] programs and other resources, and urban students that are low income and minority populations have access to the same kind of education that they deserve.”

Newburn emphasized his commitment to equity for diverse populations but is also an advocate for expanding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, describing it as a way to “modernize the education system” in the state and help produce skilled workers.

Newburn is worried that disappointment parents may have with the decisions made about distance or hybrid education in their districts may affect his chances at re-election, but believes his experience on the board will better position him to serve.

“We’re close to the Legislature, and our job changes a little bit every session. There’s a learning curve,” he said. “And so the advantage that I have is that I’ve been through four cycles … There’s probably no one in the state that understands the true role and function of the state board and how it should operate and under what condition it operates well as I do.”

Primary election turnout exceeds 480,000, sets up major races for November

After more than a week, Nevada’s unique, mostly mail 2020 primary election is finally in the books and will end as one of the highest-turnout primary elections in state history.

Final results from the state’s June 9 primary election are updated as of Thursday, ahead of the legal deadline for votes to officially be canvassed on Friday. More than 480,000 ballots were cast in the election, or around 29.5 percent of registered voters.

The long delay in reporting was a result of Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s decision to hold a mostly all-mail election in an effort to mitigate potential spread of COVID-19, with limited in-person voting sites in each county. Most voters opted to use a mail-in ballot, with only around 7,800 people opting to cast their ballot in-person.

The delay in reporting results also saw delayed victories by several legislative caucus-backed candidates who appeared behind opponents after initial results were published last week. Most notably, former Nevada State Democratic Party head Roberta Lange won a close victory over Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel in a state Senate primary, after Spiegel appeared ahead in initial results. 

But in several heated races in the state’s congressional districts, the slow count left few surprises. Republican primaries in Districts 3 and 4 were won easily by former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer and ex-Assemblyman Jim Marchant, respectively, while a competitive race among Democrats in ruby-red District 2 fell decisively to one-time legislative candidate Patricia Ackerman. 

They will now go on to face incumbents who, across the board, easily secured their own renominations. Across all four districts, only one incumbent — Democrat Steven Horsford — received less than 80 percent of the vote. 

Check out our summary below on the status of major races heading into the November general election. Full results are available here.

U.S. House

  • In District 4, former Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant will take on incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford. Marchant emerged from a crowded primary field with 34.8 percent of the vote, while Horsford won nearly 75.1 percent in the Democratic primary. 
  • In District 3, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee will face one-time legislative candidate and ex-wrestler Dan Rodimer in the general election. Lee cruised to victory in a non-competitive primary, securing 82.7 percent of the vote, while Rodimer won 49.8 percent in a bitter, often-combative three-way Republican race. 
  • In District 2, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei also enjoyed a wide margin of victory, winning 80.8 percent of the vote. He will go on to face Democrat Patricia Ackerman, who secured 48.9 percent in a hotly contested primary. 
  • In District 1, incumbent Democrat Dina Titus also easily secured her renomination, winning more than 82.6 percent of the vote. She will go on to face Republican Joyce Bentley, who challenged and lost to Titus in the 2018 general election. Bentley emerged from a field of five Republicans with 35.7 percent of the vote. 

State Senate

  • In District 7, former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange won this three-way Democratic primary against two current lawmakers. Lange secured 38.3 percent of the vote, followed by Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel at 36.9 percent and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo at 24.9 percent. Lange is all but guaranteed a victory in November as she faces no challengers in the general election.

State Assembly

  • In District 2, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama won this crowded Republican primary. She secured 47.9 percent of the vote, followed by commercial real estate agent Erik Sexton with 27 percent of the vote and Jim Small, a retired member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service, with 19 percent. She faces Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor, in the general election. Kunnel won her primary with 35.9 percent of the vote over Jennie Sherwood, a journeywoman electrician, with 31.5 percent.
  • In District 4, former Republican Assemblyman Richard McArthur will face a rematch in November against Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk after winning his Republican primary. He defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, with 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9 percent.
  • In District 16, community activist Cecelia González won this four-way Democratic primary with 50.1 percent of the vote. González is likely to win the general election against the one Republican in the race, Reyna “Alex” Sajdak, because of the overwhelming voter registration advantage Democrats have in the district. 
  • In District 18, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada attorney Venicia Considine, who ran with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this four-way Democratic primary. She secured 39.4 percent of the vote after initially training Lisa Ortega, a master arborist and owner of Great Basin Sage Consulting, in early primary results.
  • In District 19, Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards lost his re-election bid in the primary to Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black. Black won with 61 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 39 percent. Black is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election in November, as there are no Democrats or third-party candidates in the race.
  • In District 20, UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who was running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this Democratic primary with 46.5 percent of the vote after initially trailing in early results. No Republican candidates filed to run in this Paradise-area seat, meaning Orentlicher is essentially guaranteed a victory come November.
  • In District 31, former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman won this three-way Republican primary with 51 percent of the vote. She goes on to face a rematch against Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly after losing the seat to him by fewer than 50 votes in 2016.
  • In District 36, Assemblyman Greg Hafen defeated challenger Dr. Joseph Bradley in the Republican primary in this rural Nevada Assembly district with 54.9 percent of the vote. Hafen is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election as no Democrats or candidates from other parties filed to run for the seat.
  • In District 37, Andy Matthews, former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, defeated former television reporter and congressional candidate Michelle Mortensen with 49 percent of the vote. He goes on to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Shea Backus, in the general election.
  • For more information on the outcomes of primary races, check out our legislative results story.

Board of Regents

  • In District 3, Byron Brooks will face off against Swadeep Nigam in the general election. Brooks garnered 31.4 percent of the votes, while Nigam secured 23.8 percent.
  • In District 4, Patrick Boylan and Nick “Doc” Spirtos will head to the general election. Boylan captured 37.6 percent of the votes, and Spirtos received 33.3 percent.
  • In District 10, the general election will feature a contest between Kevin Melcher and Joseph Arrascada. Melcher earned 28.4 percent of the primary votes, while Arrascada garnered 21.9 percent.

State Board of Education

  • In District 1, Tim Hughes will face off against Angelo Casino in the general election. Hughes received 37.7 percent of the primary votes, while Casino captured 24 percent.
  • In District 2, Katie Coombs ran unopposed and, thus, won the election outright.
  • In District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz won the seat after securing 63 percent of the primary votes. If a candidate receives the majority of votes in this primary race, he or she automatically wins the seat without running in the general election.
  • In District 4, incumbent Mark Newburn will compete against Rene Cantu in the general election after a neck-and-neck primary race. Cantu captured 35.8 percent of the primary votes, while Newburn secured 35.3 percent.

Clark County School Board of Trustees

  • In District A, Lisa Guzman and Liberty Leavitt will be heading to the general election. Guzman received 26.1 percent of the primary votes, while Leavitt captured 19 percent.
  • In District B, Katie Williams will face off against Jeff Proffitt in the general election. Williams secured 23.9 percent of primary votes, while Proffitt snagged 18.7 percent.
  • In District C, Tameka Henry will compete against Evelyn Garcia Morales in the general election. After a close primary race, Henry emerged with 21.1 percent of the votes, while Garcia Morales secured 20.3 percent.
  • In District E, incumbent Lola Brooks will face challenger Alexis Salt in the general election. Brooks, who currently serves as the board president, received 21.6 percent of the primary votes, while Salt garnered 17.5 percent.

Washoe County School Board of Trustees

  • In District A, Scott Kelley will compete against Jeff Church in the general election. Kelley snagged 33.4 percent of the primary votes, while Church garnered 23 percent.
  • In District D, Kurt Thigpen became the outright winner of that seat after securing 52.9 percent of the votes. His victory comes with added significance because he will be the board’s first LGBTQ school trustee.
  • In the At-Large District G, Diane Nicolet and Craig Wesner are heading to the general election. Nicolet received 43.6 percent of the primary votes, while Wesner captured 24.5 percent.

Election Preview: State board candidates compete to have a hand in determining the future of education in Nevada

Nevada’s schools have had an unconventional year, faced with sudden closures and a shift to digital learning and the future is uncertain as administrators and elected officials determine what education will look like in the age of the coronavirus.

Just as schools let out for the summer, voters will have the opportunity to choose between the candidates who will sit on the state board that helps make these decisions.

The Nevada State Board of Education works in tandem with the state Department of Education, voting and adopting administrative regulations about allocations of funding, setting standards for areas of study and determining graduation requirements for Nevada’s high schoolers.

There are 11 seats on the board, chaired by Elaine Wynn, a director of Wynn Resorts; four of those are elected positions. Of the seven remaining seats, three are voting members nominated by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly while the remaining four are nominated to represent the interests of various education-focused organizations.

The elected seats on the board represent each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, and all four are up for election this year, with two seats empty and two incumbents hoping to be re-elected.

Map of Nevada's Congressional Districts.

For these nonpartisan primary races, the field will be narrowed to two candidates who will go on to compete in the general election in November. If elected, candidates will serve four year terms on the board.

Though District 2 has only one candidate on the ballot, District 1’s crowded race has five candidates competing in the primary, including Tim Hughes, determined to win after losing the seat in 2016.

In District 3, candidate Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen is taking on Bruce James-Newman and incumbent Felicia Ortiz by touting his “Ban Schools” platform, and in District 4, board Vice President Mark Newburn hopes to successfully defend his seat against two competitors.

District 1

The Las Vegas Valley will see the most crowded race for the board this year, as Southern Nevada’s District 1 has five candidates vying for the seat.

Tim Hughes received the Culinary Union’s endorsement for the position as well as an endorsement from the AFL-CIO and the Clark County Education Association. 

Hughes’ campaign has reported $3,500 in contributions since January including a $1,000 donation from Leadership for Educational Equity, a non-profit organization focused on supporting diversity in educational leadership. As of April 15, the candidate had $2,265 cash on hand.

Hughes is the vice president for the western region of TNTP, a teacher training program, and formerly worked for Teach for America. Hughes also ran for the seat in 2016, losing to Robert Blakely.

Incumbent Blakely is not seeking re-election.

Newcomer Aaron Mason is also campaigning for the seat but hasn’t reported any contributions to his campaign this year. Mason is portraying himself as an outsider to a “broken system.” The Las Vegas resident is the director of ticket operations and analytics for the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team and says he is running not as a politician or an educator but as a concerned father.

Mason is up against multiple career educators, including Michael Robison, a retired teacher, principal and associate professor. Robison has represented both the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Phoenix at Board of Education meetings in the past.

Angelo Casino has been an educator for five years and currently teaches at a charter school. Career and technical education is a major issue for the candidate, who is advocating for increased vocational training as well as an increase in funding for magnet programs in schools.

Neither Casino nor Robison reported any campaign contributions.

The fifth candidate in the race is Steve Esh, a former electronics engineer who is self-funding his campaign with a $200 contribution made in his own name.

District 2

For Northern Nevada’s District 2 seat, Katie Coombs is the only candidate.  The Reno resident has worked in the financial industry and has written multiple parenting and lifestyle columns, including one in the Reno Gazette-Journal, in addition to hosting a radio show.

Incumbent Kevin Melcher is leaving the Board of Education to run for a position on the Nevada Board of Regents. Melcher was appointed to the board in September 2019 to finish the term of David Carter, who had resigned earlier that year.

Coombs has been endorsed by multiple organizations, including the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association. Despite running unopposed, the candidate has spent $3,858 this year campaigning, leaving her with $634 cash on hand. 

District 3

In Southern Nevada's District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz faces two opponents in her push for a second term on the board.

Ortiz was first appointed to the board in 2016 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval before running for and being elected to the District 3 seat later that year. Ortiz has received $9,265 in donations since January, including a $5,000 donation from the Clark County Education Association.

Ortiz’s competitors, Bruce James-Newman and Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen, have not reported any contributions made to their campaigns. 

Mickanen, an outspoken Trump supporter and founder of The Scoop, an online news platform, is campaigning on a “Ban Schools” platform, claiming that the public education system is about “indoctrination” rather than education.

James-Newman ran for Assembly as a Libertarian in 2018, losing the election for the District 29 seat which is currently held by Democrat Lesley Cohen.

District 4

District 4 includes the northern segment of Clark County and portions of Central Nevada. This district will also see an incumbent competing against two challengers. Mark Newburn, the vice president of the board, was first elected to the seat in 2012.

Newburn has received endorsements from the Nevada State Education Association and the Culinary Union. His campaign has been entirely self-funded, and he has spent over $2,700 this year on advertising expenses.

The candidate sits on multiple education boards and is the chair of the UNLV Computer Science Department Industry Advisory Board. Prior to his work in the public sector, he worked in the technology industry for 40 years.

Neither of Newburn’s competitors have reported any spending by their campaigns so far this year. 

Candidate Vincent Richardson has been endorsed by the Clark County Black Caucus. Richardson is an elementary school teacher and an instructor at the College of Southern Nevada where he previously worked as diversity coordinator. 

Rene Cantu, the executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada), has 29 years of education experience and previously served as the District E trustee for the Clark County School District. 

10:42 a.m.: This story was updated to reflect that Mark Newburn was elected in 2012, not 2016.

5:52 p.m.: This story was updated to correct the geographic descriptions of Districts 3 and 4.

Proposed Nevada Reconnect Scholarship aims to fill gap from Promise Scholarship, aid older students

college students in a hallway

While Nevada lawmakers took a major stride toward making community college free when they created the Nevada Promise Scholarship in 2017, the award is out of reach for many — namely, anyone older than age 19.

That’s why Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris is proposing the Nevada Reconnect Scholarship, which has similar specifications as the Promise Scholarship but no age limitations. Lawmakers discussed her bill, SB255, in the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

“While Promise Scholarships are an important and praiseworthy step toward college access, this age requirement leaves many Nevadans behind,” Harris testified. “It leaves out those who are mid-career and may need vocational training in order to move forward in their jobs, and working parents who seek to further their education and make better lives for their families.”

Harris’ bill would require people fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and it would cover whatever is not paid for by other scholarships and need-based grants. Students must not already have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, and must maintain a 2.5 G.P.A. to keep eligibility.

She proposed amendments including removing a minimum requirement that participants take three credits a semester. Instead, she wants to cap eligibility at six semesters for those seeking an associate’s degree and 12 semesters for those seeking a bachelor’s.

Students must also be on a path to attain a degree, as opposed to taking one-off classes at a community college. And while the bill originally called for participants to complete 20 hours of community service before receiving the scholarship, Harris says she wants that reduced to eight hours.

The bill calls for $1.75 million to fund the program for one fiscal year, although it is not clear how many students that would cover because each participant would have a different level of need. Lower division classes at the College of Southern Nevada are about $103 per credit hour.

Nate McKinnon, vice chancellor for community colleges at the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), said covering 778 students through the Nevada Promise Scholarship cost about $938,000 a semester. Gov. Steve Sisolak is proposing $4.5 million for the Nevada Promise Scholarship in the coming biennium, while NSHE estimates the actual need will be about $6.4 million.

Nobody testified against the bill, but several people pushed for its passage. One was Rene Cantu of Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) — a program to help at-risk high schoolers transition into the workforce — who said the Reconnect Scholarship will help parents of JAG participants seize on the increasing number of jobs requiring higher skills.

“The Nevada Reconnect Scholarship is an important second generation anti-poverty strategy,” Cantu said. “SB255 will enable some of our most vulnerable families to take advantage of the growing number of middle-skill jobs.”

J.W. Lazzari, financial aid director at Western Nevada College, said the most critical part about programs like the Promise and Reconnect scholarships is that they get students into the academic pipeline, starting the enrollment process and exploring the financial aid options available to them.

Some states with programs similar to the Nevada Promise Scholarship, such as Tennessee, are now experimenting with offering the awards to adults who have been out of school for a time.

“I believe it is a logical next step for our state and ideally another step toward free community college for all Nevada residents,“ Harris said. “If Nevada would like to stay in the forefront of being business-friendly and attracting a diverse economy here, we are going to simply have to send a lot of our adults back to school.”